Even with everything else set up perfect, if you use the wrong water temperature you risk making a coffee that’s too bitter or sour. So, what’s the best water temperature for brewing coffee?
The generally accepted range for brewing the optimal coffee is 195-205°F.
Of all the coffee brewing variables to control, the coffee water temperature should be one of the easiest. Think back to science and math class in school – if you can turn a variable into a constant, it makes the experiment or equation a lot easier to solve! In this case, the solution you’re ultimately looking for is better brewed coffee.
Let’s dive in and explore the relationship between water temperature and coffee.
How Does Coffee Water Temperature Affect Brewing?
Water temperature affects extraction of the coffee. Extraction is the process in which the hot water works to dissolve (extract) the flavor compounds from the coffee grounds. The hotter the water, the faster this process will occur.
You want a water temperature that extracts the ideal amount of flavor from the coffee. For a fixed amount of time, if the water is too hot it’ll cause over-extraction and result in a bitter tasting coffee. If the water is too cold, under-extraction will occur and you’ll get a sour, thin-bodied, and acidic coffee.
Now, you CAN adjust the brew time and grind size (surface area for extraction) for a given water temperature. Experienced baristas know how to do this if they’re brewing with varying water temperatures.
Since most of us aren’t pro baristas, the easy solution is to stay in the ideal temperature range and adjust those other variables as needed.
We’re not going to discuss this here, but cold brewing coffee occurs at much lower water temperatures. Brewing can take up to 48 hours to get the right amount of extraction since it’s slower at the lower temperature.
What is the Best Temperature for Brewing?
The ideal temperature range for brewing coffee is generally accepted to be 195-205°F.
Brewing at this temperature allows for ideal extraction of flavors from the coffee.
It’s important to note that this temperature range is the temperature of the mixed hot water and coffee grounds! Once you pour the hot water into the brewing vessel with the coffee, there will be an initial heat loss. That heat loss varies due to the amount of water and coffee used and the initial temperature of the vessel.
You don’t want to stray from this temperature range unless you know how to adjust the other brewing variables. But, there are some exceptions to the rule if you’re feeling adventurous.
You can tweak the temperature of the water based on the roast.
Light roast coffee is less roasted than medium or dark roast coffees. That means the light roasts have a denser structure with more sugars. Light roasts need hotter water to penetrate and dissolve the flavors of the beans compared to the darker roasts.
There isn’t a hard and fast rule for adjusting the temperature based on the roast. A good range for lighter roasts is 205-208°F. For darker roasts, you can dial back the temperature to 185-195°F.
Keep in mind you have the ability to adjust the water temperature only if you have a manual-type coffee maker. These include the AeroPress, French Press, and pour over coffee maker, to name a few. If you’re like many people and have a drip coffee machine, read until the end of the article to see how you can adjust your brewing based on water temperature.
How to Always Achieve the Best Temperature?
Now that you know the ideal water temperatures, you have to consider how you’re going to always get your water to that temperature range. Let’s discuss three different ways you can do this.
For all methods you should consider flushing hot water through the vessel to preheat. Preheating reduces the initial heat loss from the water to the vessel.
- Use a Thermometer – You can use a thermometer to measure the temperature of the water for brewing. Any thermometer should work fine. We recommend buying a quality kitchen thermometer that’s reliable. Not only will this allow you to brew better, but then you’ll have a good tool for other uses in the kitchen if needed. You can also buy an infrared thermometer to measure the temperature without touching the water.
- Use an Electric Gooseneck Kettle – Another gadget you can use is an electric gooseneck kettle which heats the water up to a set temperature. If you buy one of these, make sure it has an adjustable temperature setting. While it’s more expensive than a thermometer, it does all the work for you. You can easily change your temperature setting if you need to tweak it for certain situations such as different roasts.
- Use Boiling Water – If you can’t get a thermometer or electric gooseneck kettle, you can simply rely on chemistry! Although without any way to measure temperature it may not be as accurate as the other methods.
As you probably know, the boiling point of water is 212°F. But what you might not know is that the 212°F boiling point is only at sea level.
The boiling point changes depending on your elevation. The higher your elevation, the lower the boiling temperature is due to the drop in pressure.
To do this, first determine the elevation of where you live by searching online and then use this tool to find the corresponding boiling point in the table.
Plan your brewing based on your target temperature range (195-205°F) and boiling point.
- If your local boiling point is less than 195°F, your water will boil before your target temperature. If you use this temperature water you’re at risk of under-extraction. You need to adjust your other brewing variables to compensate for this. You can use a finer ground coffee, increasing your coffee to water ratio, increasing your brew time, or a combination of all the above.
- If your local boiling point is between 195-205°F, you’re likely in luck! You can bring your water to a boil and then use that water immediately for brewing. It’s a good idea to preheat the brewing vessel in this case to reduce the amount of initial heat loss.
- If your local boiling point is greater than 205°F, you may need to let your boiling water sit for anywhere 30 seconds to a few minutes after boiling. The length of time will depend on your elevation, local boiling point, and kettle you’re using. A thermometer and stopwatch are useful the first time you do this to figure out how long you need to wait.
How Does This Apply to a Drip Coffee Machine?
With a drip coffee machine you don’t have much control over the brewing process. Yes, you can control the temperature of the water you pour into the machine, but most machines still only brew at a set temperature.
All that you can really adjust is the fineness of your grounds and the coffee to water ratio.
If you own a machine that the Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA) certifies, you’re in luck! These machines must keep your water within 197.6-204.8°F to brew.
If your machine isn’t certified by the SCAA, the temperature range of the machine will vary.
If you want to keep using your machine but the taste is a bit sour or bitter, you need to get a thermometer. Use it to measure the temperature of the coffee right as it brews. Once you know the brew temperature, you can adjust the fineness of the grounds or coffee to water ratio to get better extraction.
What to Do Next?
You should now have the knowledge and tools to stop guessing about the ideal coffee water temperatures and keep it consistent from brew to brew.
But remember that water temperature is only one of many factors that affect your coffee. If you always use the correct water temperature but your coffee still tastes subpar, then likely there’s something else wrong. In that case you may need to change your beans.
To take the next step in brewing better coffee, check out our article on coffee grind size. With the water temperature dialed in, the grind size becomes something you can easily adjust to get even greater taste out of your coffee!